As an avid FIFA Ultimate Team fan who spent an unhealthy amount of time during university struggling through Division Rivals with a win-rate I’m not sure I want to share, I approached FIFA 23 and the new Ultimate Team experience with a sense of reservation. I was, of course, excited to jump into a fresh FUT experience with updated graphics, improved physics, and a new team. However, despite what we were told in the build-up to release, I was expecting this game to feel the same as last year’s FIFA – like the year before, and the year before that.
Thankfully, this is very much not the case when it comes to FIFA 23. For the first time in a long while, EA has released a FIFA game that is noticeably different from its predecessor – and one that’s a major improvement, too.
I know this should go without saying when you consider the fact that we’re paying a premium price for the privilege of playing nowadays, but it does need to be mentioned: FIFA 23 is graphically mesmerising. It’s by far the best looking game in the series and I’d even go as far to say that it’s one of the best looking current-gen games yet.
For the most part, the player face scans are more accurate than ever before – although, some of the manager face scans leave a lot to be desired. Adding to this, though, EA has worked wonders with an updated physics engine that lets the long hair flow and the shorts and shirts crease with a realism – something that really shouldn’t matter when you consider the fact that you’re almost always looking down at these players from over 100 feet in the air.
When you couple these improvements with the crisp 4K resolution on offer from a current-gen console, you’re in for a treat. It’s also worth noting that, unlike last year’s FIFA game, I haven’t experienced any sort of frame rate issues at all. As something that I found was quite a common occurrence while playing FIFA 22 online, I can’t say I’m sad to see the back of this annoying interference.
But, as we all know, a FIFA game is only as good as its gameplay. Slick graphics are nice, sure, but they’re not what makes or breaks a game.
Fortunately, FIFA 23’s gameplay is spectacular. Not only that, but the Ultimate Team experience is more similar to offline play and Career Mode matches than ever before, which is far from a bad thing. Whether you’re darting down the wing, diving desperately in front of an oncoming shot, or tactfully passing it between your defenders, the updated FIFA 23 physics engine has improved every aspect of gameplay.
In fact, FIFA 23 emulates reality in the most accurate way we’ve seen so far. Your player’s position in relation to the ball, the momentum of each sharp turn, and the angle of every pass and shot matters so much more in FIFA 23. This does mean that getting used to this new FIFA takes a little while, but when you are familiar with the updated physics in play, every kick of the ball is so much more satisfying than it is in previous games.
Not only this but, for once, every single one of EA’s new gameplay mechanics – including power shots, updated set-pieces, and squad chemistry updates – actually improves upon what was available last year.
The new power shot shooting technique is a fantastic way to add a bit of flair, and quite a lot of velocity, to a long shot. However, when you manage to nail execution, they’re almost too overpowered. I don’t know if you have seen that clip of Haaland scoring from the halfway line in-game, but it’s certainly something I feel we’re going to see more of as copious amounts of juiced-up promo cards are released in FIFA 23 Ultimate Team.
That being said, other improvements, like set pieces, feel quite a lot more balanced than before. Finding the right technique to score from a spot-kick isn’t something reserved for FIFA’s elite anymore. In fact, they’re easy enough to get on target now that they hold a real weight. Getting a free kick in a dangerous area is much more likely to change the outcome of a game in FIFA 23, as I think it should be.
Adding to this, EA has managed to effectively combat the pace-based meta Ultimate Team players have been suffering with for years by introducing the new AcceleRATE mechanic – something that I am very much a fan of.
If you’re not familiar with what this actually means, the AcceleRATE feature essentially gives every single player one of three sprinting styles: Controlled, Lengthy, and Explosive. While Controlled is the most common sprinting style, and the one we’re used to the most, the introduction of both Lengthy and Explosive adds more personality to the players in your squad. Not only this, but it seems to mitigate the issues you might face when someone like Adama Traore is running straight at your centre-backs.
Faster players with the Explosive sprinting style can catch you off guard, darting past defenders at first before slowing slightly. In opposition to this, slower players with the Lengthy sprinting style can actually catch players much faster than them if they have enough of the pitch to run into. AcceleRATE adds an interesting dimension to gameplay that doesn’t punish you for choosing higher-rated slower players in favour of pace merchants like Fulham’s Daniel James, Watford’s Ismaila Sarr, and Sporting’s Jeremiah St Juste.
One aspect of FIFA 23’s new and improved Ultimate Team experience I was sceptical about was the chemistry system. As you may already be aware, the green lines are gone for good and players are now offered a chemistry rating based on how many players in your squad share their club, league, or nationality. After spending a week of my life trying to get my head around the limits of this chemistry system, I have to say that I am on the fence. This isn’t a bad change by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not exactly something I would describe as a sweeping improvement – certainly not on the same level as the new gameplay mechanics and graphical improvements.
However, what I do like about the new chemistry system is that you don’t need to directly link your players to benefit from the increased chemistry they offer. For example, if you have a full Premier League squad and you want to include Barcelona’s Memphis Depay, Real Madrid’s Antonio Rudiger, and Atletico Madrid’s Jan Oblak, you can – and you’ll get some bonus chemistry because they’re all from the same league. Sure, this isn’t going to offer you the best chemistry you could get with players from the Premier League in their place, but there are other ways to build on that. You could have Chelsea’s Kai Havertz in CAM – a German player like Rudiger – and Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk at the back – a Dutch player, like Depay – all of which will improve your team’s chemistry overall.
FIFA 23’s new chemistry system gives you a lot more freedom to create your ultimate team in this mode. But, EA is still making sure that there are some rules to play by, meaning there’s still some strategy to it.
Logic, though, seems to have gone out the window when it comes to player positions. I’ll admit, I’m a fan of the new system in place where each player has a primary position followed by secondary positions based on where they’re used to playing in reality. It means you can stick Bayern Munich’s Joshua Kimmich at RB, if you really want, and free up a CDM slot without losing his presence in your side.
However, what I’m not a fan of is how strict the new chemistry system is when it comes to a player being in the correct position. If you have a CDM like Manchester City’s Rodri, who can only play in CDM, but you want to use a formation with two CMs, he’s not going to give you any chemistry. Of course, I’m not expecting to benefit from full chemistry if he’s not in the right position, but I think some allowances should be given for CDMs playing in CM, LMs playing in LW, and the like.
That being said, my biggest gripe with FIFA 23 Ultimate Team by far is the market and monetisation that still dictates the game. I will admit, my pack luck has been pretty good this year, but the fact that my first Division Rivals game was against a team with a 91-rated Marco Van Basten, a 90-rated Rivaldo, and an 88-rated Paolo Maldini is a perfect example of where FIFA is still tripping up when it comes to its player marketplace and pack system.
I’m not going to pretend like I have an answer to this, and the new FUT Moments mode is a fantastic place to earn a new pack or two while you’re warming up, but something needs to change when someone can have three of the rarest players in the game in their squad on release day.
Still, all this innovation, and the fact that EA seems to have actually taken the issues of last year’s game into consideration, means that FIFA 23 is one of the best competitive football games we’ve seen in a long time. The gameplay rewards player agency and there’s more freedom than ever before when it comes to choosing your starting line-up for your next Division Rivals match. There’s still work to be done when it comes to balancing Ultimate Team’s pay-to-win system, but I don’t think the radical revamp this mode needs is going to come anytime soon.
FIFA 23 is easily one of the best football games EA has released in a long time, but meaningful new mechanics and fantastic new features are still overshadowed by a mode that’s a pay-to-win system in everything but name.